For example one MA attorney writes ( she has several articles on line ) this is a part of one
The “Third-a-Third-a-Third” and UMass Cap Standards
Nature abhors a vacuum, and judges abhor a rule. Translation: if no rule exists, judges will try to invent one. In Massachusetts (and no doubt elsewhere), two common sense standards have emerged as accepted approaches for apportioning college expenses. The elegantly named “third-a-third-a-third” standard simply posits that the child, mother and father will contribute 1/3 of the cost of college each year, with the child expected to borrow this sum in student loans. Meanwhile, the “UMass cap” standard provides the obligation of parents to contribute to college will be capped each year at the cost of room, board, tuition and fees at UMass Amherst for that year. In many cases, these two standards will be combined, so that each parent’s contribution to college is capped at 1/3 of the cost of UMass in that year, even if the child elects to attend a more expensive private school.
Both the “third-a-third-a-third” and “UMass cap” standards are rules of thumb; in other words, they provide a starting point from which parties and judges can work towards resolving college expenses. Economically challenged parents will find even 1/3 of the cost of UMass (currently $8000+ per year) overwhelming. On the other hand, a judge may feel that very wealthy parents who insist on “capping” their contributions based on the cost of UMass are shortchanging children who could afford attend more expensive private colleges. No matter how much we wish for one, there is no formula, and there is no definitive answer to how much parents should contribute to college or how contribution to college affects child support payments. This analysis can be extremely factually intensive, and unlike the Child Support Guidelines, often examines far more than the parents’ income. Given that a judge has huge discretion to determine these issues, a skilled attorney is especially important.
About the Author: Nicole K. Levy is a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and Massachusetts family law attorney for Stevenson, Lynch & Owens, located in Hingham, Massachusetts.